This week saw one of my favourite composers, Alexandre Desplat, win the Oscar for Best Original Music Score for his work on 'The Shape of Water'. A film score can make a movie, in its subtlety, its timing, its undulations, and its quietude. Much of what we hear as we watch a film filled with fine artistry in general, stays with us long after the credits have rolled. Sometimes this is a subconscious thing.
Other times, the score – the pattern of music played to accompany and elevate the story – inspires us to go immediately to listen to it on the music platform of our choice. We aren't quite ready to leave the film on the screen and listening to its score takes us back into that world.
Here are three composers who have scored movies that I love - composers whose scores I immediately wanted to relive on leaving the movie theatre.
Abel Korzeniowski - A Single Man (2013)
The score for 'A Single Man' by Polish composer, Abel Korzeniowski, is one that has long inspired me. Adorning Tom Ford's stylish 2013 directorial debut (as well as his Nocturnal Animals in 2016) with its sad beauty, Korzeniowski perfectly captured a tableau of the central theme and story with his music. I would go as far as to say that the score manages to capture the emotional pain of the film's main characters without that pain being explicitly told. This is where a film score really comes into its own.
The repetition of its overture with short strokes of the violin's bow alongside the light, tinkering sounds of the piano evokes a character who is putting on a front in their present life, whilst going through an internal turmoil linked to memories – both good and bad – and ultimately sad. There is a defiance in the strings here but also a juxtaposition of anxiety that plays out, creating a feeling of uncertainty. Cello, flute, harp, violin and viola are used and the music is a sprightly, quick staccato. It seems to represent an attempt for happiness that is ultimately only a charade. Korzeniowski's score is interspersed by waltzes by Shigeru Umebayashi (notably named George's Waltz I and II – a singular name for a two-person dance, suggesting an impossible solo waltz with the memory of his lost partner), and an Aria from the opera 'La Wally' (notably a piece for a solo performer perhaps reflecting the loneliness of George's lament).
Overall, a truly beautiful experience is created which fits perfectly with the Lautner architecture and stylish cinematography in the film. Put your headphones on and immerse yourself in this score, especially if you're feeling creatively frustrated. Jazz songs 'Stormy Weather' and 'Green Onions' are also included in the film, making this one smooth ride of a soundtrack.
Clint Mansell - Filth (2016)
Clint Mansell is probably best known for his score to the incomparably intoxicating film, 'Requiem For A Dream'. No wonder he was chosen to score John S. Baird's Edinburgh-set film, 'Filth' (2016) because his ominous, dark, rhythmic string arrangements work perfectly in this dark, illusionary piece of film. As in 'Requiem For a Dream', the characters here escape our grip, they escape definition and evade identity. Yet, ultimately, like its predecessor, it tells a human story, which is where the despairing beauty of Mansell's strings come into play. Strong and heavy, low strings dance with beautiful melancholic melodies, which have come to define Mansell's work.
There are also some really soaring and driving songs featuring guitars and drums, conveying a loss of control and descent into madness. This Stadium Rockesque sound in parts of the score, mixed with the jarring sound of bagpipes, adds to the viewer's experience of the main character's loss of grip on reality. The inclusion of bagpipes is a clever allusion to the setting of the film, but also aids the sense of the jarring path towards madness by the protagonist. There are a lot of unknown elements within the movie. Memory and hallucination mix with the present reality. Tracks like ‘Reeperman Madness' create a manic tension with use of electronica, guitars, violin and drums, which ultimately ends in a lullaby-esque piano solo. The violins of tracks like ‘Poliswork' are filled with a quiet ominous feeling and then the bagpipes break out slowly and subtly as the melody is repeated. These tracks create an overall sense of confusion between reality and hallucination. It is in the aptly named ‘My name is Frank Sidebottom' that the bagpipes become really irksome, which we can only assume, is alluding to the confused nature of the protagonist.
At one point Eliot Sumner provides their vocal on a cover of Radiohead's Creep, accompanied by Mansell's own strings-version of the song. The balance is contained here – it's the quiet acceptance of one's descent, finally vocalised.
Yann Tiersen - Amelie (2001)
My final choice was going to be the equally melancholic yet beautiful score to ‘The Hours' (2002) by Philip Glass. Although great art often tends to come out of dysphoria, let's finish on a high note (pun not intended). Let's go back to 2001 to Paris, France.
Quintessentially French, the score to ‘Amélie' (2001) by multi-instrumentalist Yann Tiersen, is a busy, breezy delight that can't help putting a smile on your face. Even the most sleep-deprived, uninspired music maker can gain some energy after listening to it. Various instruments get a good workout in the playful music of this delightful early noughties film that won the hearts of many.
From the delicate, piano piece, ‘Comptine D'un Autre Été - L'après Midi', to the soaring, strings-driven, ‘The Drowned Girl' every track elevates its audience as we are taken on this unique journey of optimism. Tiersen manages to complement the comedic charm of the film, choosing half the songs on the soundtrack from his previous albums. The use of many instruments captures the Parisian spirit and the inner workings of the protagonist's quirky mind. Instruments include toy piano, carillon, banjo, mandolin, harpsichord, vibraphone, guitar, accordion, piano, bass, and melodica, as well as a typewriter urgently clicking away throughout some of the songs, and a bicycle wheel at the end of ‘Dispute', which all add to the playfulness of sound. The waltzes throughout are driving, ascending pieces, perhaps reflecting Amélie's ‘waltz' with the people she comes across. The jaunty accordion evokes the ‘c'est la vie' charm of the French humour. Even the sadder-sounding tracks put me in mind of the sad French mime artist – a character who is overtly mimicking sadness to create comedy, a caricature of sadness. L'esprit des Français!
Five more score composers to check out:
Max Richter (Black Mirror, 2016)
Carter Burwell (Carol, 2015)
Philip Glass (The Hours, 2002)
Rachel Portman (Grey Gardens, 2009)
Thomas Newman (American Beauty, 1999)
I hope this list has inspired you to check out these sublime scores. Perhaps you're working on your own cinematic music production using loops, SFX samples and MIDI files. Or maybe you've been influenced by film or a piece of film music and would like to create some cinematic-inspired music for a computer game, commercial release or a DJ set. Your creation doesn't have to be all crescendos and full-orchestral soundscapes. Mix electronica with classical instruments, create an ambient, minimalist soundtrack, or write a melodic hook that captures the ears of an audience - whatever you do, experiment!